Holograms – A Way to Enhance Nonprofit Service Delivery Or Just Another Tech Mirage

Like many social entrepreneurs out there, many of my ideas come from lived experiences – that moment when you think to yourself this task could be so much simpler if we did it another way. 

One such time was while I navigated the arduous task of house hunting in a new city during the pandemic. While the market had slowed a little due to a number of predictable factors, the new rules associated with viewing homes had actually accelerated new tech to a level of expectation rather than that of a novelty, including 360-degree/3D virtual viewings and video chat tours hosted by realtors. But the nonprofit sector isn’t as nimble as other industries, so while some sectors pivot, advance, and identify or try new efficiencies through tech, the real risk for nonprofits is that they fall further behind in a rapidly evolving market, at a time when engagement and funding are down. 

While there is much ingenuity out there and there is an opportunity for organizations to play a leading role in understanding and fast-tracking potential solutions that our society urgently needs, we will likely look back on the pandemic and see how it accelerated the urgency of adoption across a number of industries. 

With virtual viewings now a regular tool in the marketing of real estate, how might nonprofits create a similar experience that can engage, inspire, and drive action from individuals and other potential partners? What realistic options are available to nonprofits now or are on the cusp of being affordable in the coming years? 

I read recently about a hologram startup called Proto who were looking to solve Australia’s regional teacher shortage by allowing teachers to beam a hologram using a 4K camera (which includes an iPhone) to any one of the company’s displays in real time. It has already been used in several universities in the US, as well as in stadiums, museums and theaters.

Proto has a number of big name investors, including Tim Draper, an early investor in Tesla and SpaceX, Mike Walsh, an Uber investor, Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs, and Paris Hilton.

I think it’s safe to say we all get excited about holograms, whether it be on Star Trek or other prominent sci-fi movies, hologram Tupac performing at Coachella or the iterations of this tech that have been trialed in retail and most prominently in home fitness. But we have to acknowledge that this isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. Such a transition would have considerable cost outlays and internet stability issues in content delivery.

So can we get excited about it from a nonprofit standpoint. The answer is yes, but I think it would be a very niche market with vendors being hired to bump in and bump out the tech for special events – think gala dinners and conferences (keynotes, auctioneers etc.).

I think there is a conversation to be had in replacing tap to donate machines with asks from a hologram but then again this would probably be a recording rather than a in real time projection.

My more realistic bets would be on mixed-reality offerings.Mixed reality (MR) is going to be the sweet spot for a shift to virtual options that could provide a new ROI, that being a return on immersion. MR has gained strong traction recently and  is outpacing the growth of the more established augmented reality (AR) options on the market. It’s not just overlaying virtual objects in a  real-world environment (think Pokémon GO) but anchoring them in  ways that are interactive and have the ability to drive more commercial value and ultimately patronage and donations. Opportunities could exist in the following traditional sector offerings and actors:

Conferences. Conference apps will probably continue to evolve and see a major leveling up with 3D maps, interactive augmented-reality kiosks, real-time session engagement, and beacon alerts pinging your phone when you enter different areas. In this environment you won’t miss a thing. Information sharing will be immediate and curated based on the information you provided at registration and refined as you move through the event. 

Grantmakers. Traditional processes like site visits can be all moved online with 360-degree virtual cameras being used to tour a facility and that footage being shared with the nonprofit afterward to help advance its work. 

Nonprofits. A virtual office, built around a dynamic and informative user experience, will help customers find either the information or person they need quickly. Virtual offices where individuals can still see your work in action and interact with virtual anchors including people, art, and other tangible solutions can help potential volunteers and donors understand the work at a deeper level and give them an opportunity to learn more and conceptualize how they can support your cause. The fact they can “drop by” at any time also makes your organization more accessible in ways that just weren’t possible a few years ago. 

But with all this talk about holograms and mixed reality where does that leave VR? Wasn’t that predicted to be the next big thing? Well, VR is still growing. But those cumbersome headsets are still making mass marketing difficult, and we are yet to see them become more affordable. It’s also banking on gaming and not other practical applications of the tech to be the thing that helps it go mainstream. So we wait. I still believe VR has the biggest potential for fundraising, but we should remember all of the conferences we have been to where the medium was underserved by poor software selections and leaning more about the tech itself than what it could do. This has led to a lack of connection and understanding of its potential in the nonprofit sector and to it being seen as a novelty rather than a possible necessity. And to that end, that’s where I currently see holograms, as a novelty best served for a music festival rather than a gala dinner.

*(Photo : Screengrab from PORTL Hologram Company) 

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